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Duo out, not secret
- Shoaib and Asif to miss clash for Cup

Karachi, March 1: Pakistan today dropped pacers Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif from its World Cup team, officially because of “injuries” but against a background buzz of another failed dope test.

Coach Bob Woolmer ended days of speculation just before the team left for the West Indies, saying: “They (Shoaib and Asif) have been dropped because of fitness problems.”

The duo, recalled from the Champions Trophy last October after failing the Pakistan Cricket Board’s internal dope test, had later picked up injuries and gone to London ostensibly for treatment.

But a PTI report quoted unnamed PCB sources as saying Shoaib and Asif underwent private dope tests in London, which they had failed.

So today, when the International Cricket Council hinted that both bowlers could face dope tests as soon as they arrived in the West Indies, the Pakistan board panicked and dropped them, the sources added.

PCB chairman Nasim Ashraf denied the charge. “The truth is, both of them are injured and they may take even months to make a full recovery,” he said, echoed by chief selector Wasim Bari.

But an agency report quoted a board source as saying, “Both players had apparently gone to London to clear their systems of the banned steroid (nandrolone) but it didn’t work out after which the board decided to drop them.”

The PCB decision came hours after the ICC announced a decision to “target-test” players for performance-enhancing drugs in the West Indies, starting any day from tomorrow.

“These target tests will be in addition to ICC’s commitment to randomly test four players -- two from each side -- in 17 of the tournament’s 51 matches,” it said.

As he made the announcement, ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed named Asif and Shoaib.

“Both Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammed Asif have played for Pakistan over the past few months despite testing positive for prohibited substances last year. That is a fact… that has caused the game a high level of embarrassment,” Speed said.

“Having the option to target-test as well as the already-scheduled tests in place means that if a player does have anything in his system then there is a very strong possibility he will be caught out.”

Speed stressed that if any player was sent home from the World Cup for testing positive, it was “extremely unlikely” that any replacement would be allowed.

After the Champion’s Trophy scandal, Asif and Shoaib were banned by a PCB drugs panel for one and two years, respectively. But an appellate committee exonerated them and lifted the bans.

The sources said the ICC was fed up with the PCB for dragging the issue and had made today’s announcement to force the board to “play its cards”.

The PCB has named Mohammad Sami and Yasir Arafat as the replacements, pending approval by the ICC tomorrow.

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